Predictable University Day 5: Conducting Customer Interviews

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Today’s lesson goes back to the basics of starting a company really — doing customer interviews. It’s particularly beneficial to startups and early stage companies, and also quite useful for companies looking to come back to first principles as a way of refining their sales strategy. Only by truly understanding the customer, their pains, how they look at things internally, can we tailor an outreach campaign for attracting more of them.

Key Concepts to Learn:

  1. Live Learning Matters — There is a real problem in sales today: with the amount of information available online in blogposts, e-books, podcasts and social media, there is way too much online learning and guesswork to “knowing” the customer. In conducting interviews, meet these people in person or get on the phone with them live. This matters. P.S. Online surveys also don’t count.
  2. Don’t Interview Friends or People You Know —When conducting interviews, ensure they are REAL POTENTIAL BUYERS. Do not interview anyone you know. You want to get as close to the truth as possible.
  3. Get Picky — Look for specific customers (or prospects) that fit your ICP; these may even be different from your existing clientele, but make the effort to interview the right person to get valuable feedback.
  4. Ask for Referrals — When conducting interviews, ask for referrals. Use this one sentence: “Is there anyone else whom you feel I should speak to?”. From there, you can dig a bit deeper to understand who they are, and if your client would be open to making an introduction, but don’t be too pushy. Remember, they are doing you a favour here.
  5. 3 Rules When Doing Interviews:
  • Learn, Don’t Sell — Use the interview time to learn as much as you can about the customer, to help you in the long run. Don’t pitch, don’t hijack the conversation, and focus on listening actively and being sincere.
  • Don’t Taint the Answer — Avoid giving the client too much background on you or your product/service in the beginning. Give them the bare minimum as some context, but this shouldn’t be much more than 1–2 sentences.
  • Ask for Stories, Not Statements — This is coming back to Customer Discovery 101 really. Try to ask open ended questions and avoid close ended ones. For example — Asking “Tell me about the last time you travelled?” is a much better question than asking “Have you travelled recently?”.

Recommendations or Exercises:

  1. For Startups, Go Do 20 Interviews — If you are a startup or a company with very few clients, then you’re going to want to follow the 20 Interview Rule for your exercise. Here’s why:
  • First 5 Interviews — These will be used to get a basic understanding of the opportunity and environment.
  • Next 5 Interviews — These will be used to confirm your beliefs (hopefully), or learn something that is adjacent to your original thoughts that you want to explore further.
  • Interviews 11–20 — These will help you nail your pitch and hone in on your thesis. You’ll be able to filter out all the ‘nice to have’ versus the ‘must have’ content, and really dig into the crux of what will make your pitch 10x better.

2. For Mature Companies, Go Do 3 Interviews — While conducting 20 interviews will still be incredibly useful learning exercise, it’s not as much of a necessity as it is for a startup. You probably have some existing customers you can speak to, and are trying to find ways to refine and optimize your strategy to grow revenues. The goal is to remove false assumptions, uncover new pains (that you may not have been aware of before), understand insider knowledge and vocabulary, and filter out the noise. 3 Interviews with quality customers will give you 80% of what you need, so start there and keep going until you feel you have a clear understanding of your buyer.

Don’t Know How to Conduct Effective Interviews & Customer Discovery? Here are a few resources to help:

Benefits of this Lesson to Startups & Modern Sellers:

  1. Understand the Details — When solving business problems, knowing the details of what the problem is, why it’s important, who else is impacted, and how you are perceived as a vendor is important. Details really matter in B2B, and the interviews help you get closer to them way faster than anything else.
  2. Filter out Noise — Starting out with any type of pitch, whether that’s via phone, email, or even in person often has a lot of noise. As a modern seller, you’re job is to be able to grab the attention of your prospect and engage them with value in a short period of time. The interviews will help you get rid of the things you really shouldn’t be talking about.
  3. Learn Insider Language — If you’ve scheduled interviews with clients or prospects in similar roles, the interviews will help you pick up on insider language, vocabulary and industry jargon. This can be a powerful way of connecting with future clients as it shows you have an intimate knowledge of their industry. There is a caveat however: misusing or overusing jargon can be backfire, and using it with the wrong person can leave you with a blank stare.
  4. Develop Thick Skin & Adapt — If you’ve never sold before or are starting up, the interviews will toughen you up. Don’t expect every interview to be positive and a clear validation of what you have in mind. Keep an open mind to objective feedback, focus on listening and learning, and be comfortable to adapting. After all, that’s the goal of this whole exercise.

Tomorrow we’ll take the next step in covering a few methods and approaches to building effective email templates.

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You can learn more about my work at www.salestraction.io and you can follow me on Twitter @RajenSanghvi